Talking Music: Sanjoy Bandopadhyay

By Dr. Rajiv Trivedi



Although the phrase, “I know what I am doing” has been used by almost everyone, it is more often to reassure others than to express confidence in one’s knowledge. Sanjoy Bandopadhyay is one of the rare few who substantiate their knowledge through demonstration. A leading Sitarist, he is equally respected among the academic circles. Theory and practice to him are counterpoints. He uses one to question other and prunes the second with the first. Like dominoes the branches of both, block as well as lead the way to evolution and growth. He has started new courses as well as introduced changes in syllabi of existing ones; on the other hand he has also worked towards emphasizing the importance of documentation and preservation of traditional music.

That modernism does not imply a sniveling all-embracing attitude born out of a sense of political correctness in his case, was borne out by his response to one question – “What is 'World Classical Music’?” The fundamental factors are uniformly applicable to music from most regions, but a fixed Shadja gram and rigid application of such principles as ‘consonance of notes’ lead uniquely to Raga system in ICM that is not found in other music systems. Indian system of music curiously binds as well as liberates the musician at the same time, unlike other systems that do this selectively.

Though the contribution of Gharana-s in preserving traditional wealth can never be overlooked, the musical treasure that was irretrievably lost because of its idiosyncrasies tilts the balance against them. Today a major part of learning is carried out through institutions, but because of their focused intensity, Gharana music does offer window to the past apart from giving a mature alternate or deviation to the standard norms. The institutions impart a definite body of knowledge objectively, while in the Gharana system, one was limited to perfecting just a few Raga-s. The learner would go on practicing patiently, waiting for the day when his Guru or Ustad would permit him to perform on stage. Today, when everybody seems to have run out of patience and time, youngsters vie with each other to outperform the stalwarts. This has resulted in abbreviation of music and often violation of its grammar. As an academic responsible to enrich the learning system with strengths of earlier systems, Prof Bandopadhyay has given a lot of thought to formulating courses to that empower the learner with sufficient skill. However it is very difficult to fix duration of learning after which the learner is sure to perform as an artiste on stage. According to him, it depends on many factors like:

“1] The effectiveness of the applied pedagogy and the pedagogic skill of the teacher/s. 2] Adaptability of the student. 3] Amount of efforts put in by both the teacher/s and the student and the appropriate time deployment matching the level of cerebral absorption of the information by the student [excess practicing, over flow of musical information and their opposites can go against a student's musical growth.]. Finally, on what type of stage would the performance take place, what are the expectations of the listeners? This can considerably vary with the region, place, the expectations and understanding of the assembled audiences. I am afraid there can be many other factors, which may have to be considered.”

At higher levels, students are supposed to have read enough to understand the principles on which a Raga is created, but they rarely posses the maturity of an experienced performer. Prof. Bandopadhyay believes that there is no definite data regarding creation of new Raga-s. Since its first mention by Matanga the number of Raga has definitely increased but this increase in the number of raga is a kind of natural phenomena. “Only those ragas live out a long life which get popular and possess the required ingredients to stay longer in practice [and subsequently on the record].” Still, adept musicians can scarcely resist the lure of creating a new Raga. A number of such innovations are more deviation or variation than a legitimate creation.

Today, delivery of music through indirect means far exceeds personal presentations. Folk art as well as classic arts have suffered because of this. For almost a century and half, music has been distributed through some or the other media and the role of electronics in changing the shape of music has been immense. This has brought about an equitable distribution of quality music to a certain degree. On the other hand it has also created forces that are in direct conflict with Art. Form and content along with medium have undergone a change. In the west, musical instruments have been produced on objective principles while apart from few directions available in ancient and medieval literature, there has been little standardization in production of Indian musical instruments. Their production has always depended on the craftsman whose knowledge of music could rarely have matched those of the performer. Yet skill inherited through generations, despite loss of logic, is able to retain all nuances through sheer practice. However little is being done to preserve this generational knowledge. The electronic equipment and gadgets available today aided through ease of information interchange, have brought about a change in the tonal quality, look and even operability of musical instruments. However such change is equally subjective despite electronic or mechanical aid. “It all depends on how one sees improvement. You can surely listen to minute details of the produced sound with the help of electronic gadgets [but with distortions though!].” But as it needs just a driving license and a vehicle to shatter the convenience of fellow commuters on road, the graphic equalizer and other audio tools allow the listeners to distort the sound of original instrument to their heart’s content. One need to be talented (to parody Bacon) to appreciate music without any training. Observes Sanjoy, that this trait is not limited to listeners alone. “We also have changed the style of doing Jawari to match the requirements for better (more acceptable) amplification and recording!” If one wants pure sound to travel to the listeners this is also possible. High quality microphone and colorless speakers would assist in this. “I am yet to meet a musician who likes 'dry sound' of his instrument or voice more than through acceptable audio tweaking!!” Yet, such tweaking is likely to warp the original quality of the instrument that is perceptible albeit to a trained ear, limiting its range.

Prof. Bandopadhyay agrees that silence is an essential requisite for an artiste, both on physical and on emotional level. “Creativity gets easily expressed on plain canvass.” Strengthened perhaps by this silence, when the academic stops speaking, sound of his Sitar pervades the space.


References :

Duration of a Performance: Prof Sanjoy Bandopadhyay's Opinion

Prof Sanjoy Bandopadhyay's home page

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